I finally made it here. To Spain and Portugal. Although it would be ideal to write two separate posts on these countries, the experience and photos are weaved into one story of this trip, so I decided to just stick to one.
It was time. For a proper getaway. It's been a bit too long since I said hello to Europe, and from my recollections of the cities I visited years ago, food was not the main focus. Fast forward 10 years to adulthood + a major change in my palate, food was the main mission for this trip. I had my expectations of Spain and Portugal, but the time spent in 5 cities in 10 days has definitely peaked my curiosity, as well longing for more by the time we left. I'm not sure if our itinerary was the most ideal, nor would I recommend the exact layout. However, I can provide honest and sensible feedback for those who are planning a trip to these countries.
1st Stop: Barcelona, Spain (3 days)
Barcelona to me was a lot more modern than I expected. Lovely buildings, cute cafes, delicious jamon everywhere, great shopping, and a great first stop in Spain to get warmed up with the Spanish culture. Although the million tourists were a bit overwhelming at times...but I was amongst them so can't complain.
The food at the highly recommended market-Boqueria was pretty good, but honestly not really the best that Barcelona has to offer. The prices were much higher than even the well known spots around.
We just loved this little spot 'Taranna' in the San Antoni neighborhood. A local favorite, the menu was just simple and delightful. The food did take some time, as it seemed like the entire place was run by 2-3 ladies, including the chef. Two courses + drink of choice was only 9.8 euros!
If you're into fine dining quality, but maybe not the fine dining prices-Bodega 1900 could be your place. Albert Adria (Ferran's brother) created a menu focusing on 1900's, with 'today's perspective' on food. Vermouth is a running theme, and the prices was unbelievably affordable for two.
2nd Stop: San Sebastián/Donostia, Spain (2 days)
This city is known for holding the most Michelin restaurants in the world per square meter (only beaten by Kyoto, Japan), one of the food capitals of the world, and our favorite food city yet! We weren't able to make reservations at any of the well known Michelin restaurants, so we decided to do what most others do here. Hop around to all the different 'Pintxos (tapas) bars'. Perhaps the best way to get a true impression of what this city has to offer. Each place offered something different, unique, and flavor profiles that we never knew. The prices for each pintxos range from 1-5 euros, and our average bill for two was 15 euros with drinks!
Here is our top favorite pintxos bars:
2. Borda Berri
5. Bar Nestor
6. La Vina
Each pintxos at Zeruko was like a course at a fine dining restaurant. We were blown away with the presentation, flavors, service, and or course the price!This smoked eel was around 5 euros!
3rd Stop: Porto, Portugal (2 days)
We were probably the most excited about visiting Portugal on this trip. As rated 'Europe's top destinations' as of late, we wanted to check out what the hype was all about. It wasn't until I started doing research for this trip, that I really learned about Porto and Lisboa. Porto (northern Portugal) is one of Europe's oldest centers, and its historical core is proclaimed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The thing that I looked forward to the most in Porto was visiting the Douro River Valley, where it produces all of the worlds port wine. The day trip (train + boat) was amazing, despite the cold and rainy weather. Hopping around for Port tasting was another plus. If you're in Porto, the tastings at different wineries are a must! They range from anywhere from 1.5-3 euros a glass, and at some places the pours are very generous + no pressure to walk out with a bottle!
The architecture of Porto is just stunning. The tiles seen everywhere are something to be noted for. How can you not fall in love with this Sao Bento Railway Station (one of the main hubs in the city)? It was fairly easy to walk just everywhere in Porto (hardly took transportation), and getting lost was the best way navigate!
4th Stop: Lisboa, Portugal (2 days)
Lisboa. A large city, with so much to see, so much to do, so much to eat...we definitely didn't have enough time here. Porto was so quaint and charming. However, Lisboa is much more urban, with maybe more things to pack your schedule with. We didn't get a chance to visit any museums on our trip in general, but was able to squeeze in a few 'must stop' places like the Torre de Belém, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and the Elevador Santa Justa. The shopping was great + we found that there was more variety with food in Lisboa compared to Porto. The Mercado de Ribeira (which is on everyones to do list here) was a great spot to start your first day, so you can get your taste buds accustomed. Tons of tourists at this mercado (probably every single person in this market actually), but it was fun and easy. One of the highlights were the section where the local celebrity chefs had their stations with affordable offerings. Mercado de Ribeira Is basically a large, fancy food court. But that worked for us! Something to note: most restaurants in Lisboa place a basket of breads and goodies at the table when you're seated. We found out the hard way that they charge for this! They usually don't even ask you. At one place, we were charged one euro for a tiny packet of butter! Ugh. We just stopped eating bread at restaurants after this, haha.
Many 'Miradouro or lookout points' throughout Lisboa. This was our favorite...
This place is an absolute, mandatory stop in Lisboa. Located in the Belem neighborhood since 1837! The best Portuguese egg tarts are here. And that's it. No need to order anything else, except order as much as you want. When you leave, you'll realize what you ate was probably not enough. We ordered 4. Then added 2 more. Than walked out with 6 for take away. Served warm in the inside, and the pastry layers are thin and crispy. You can top it with cinnamon or powdered sugar, which I loved. We could not stop talking about this throughout the trip...
Save your pennies ladies. Withhold from shopping around town, and just come here first. Trust me, you'll thank me later. The Porto location was larger and does have a better selection.
However, both A Vida Portugeusa stores were beautiful.
We took the tram a few times (great to see the city), but if your traveling with 2 or more, it's actually more economical taking taxi's everywhere in Lisboa. The trams are quite pricey, and there are no free 'transfers' with the local busses which was not always pleasant.
5th Stop: Madrid (1 day)
Our overall itinerary was a bit roundabout. We started in Spain, made our way through Portugal, then flew out of Spain, back to New York. We thought a one day stop over in Madrid as our last leg would be sufficient. We were so wrong. A few extra days in Madrid would have been great. With a late check-in, we only had about 10 hours in Madrid. With our long list of things we wanted to accomplish, we had to negotiate time with priorities. The first stop was to eat jamon. Since Madrid was our last stop, we had to make sure we got our last 'jamon fix'. Luckily we fell upon the 'Gourmet Experience' food hall at the El Corte Inglés department store. This is the largest department store chain where the food halls are just amazing. It reminds me a little bit of the Plaza Hotel food hall in NYC or the food halls in Seoul. This one was just so much better. We were salivating with everything in sight, and tried to eat and shop as much as we can in this one spot. I think the vendors thought we were starved for days by the way we ate, haha. You definitely have to stop by one of the 'Gourmet Experience' food halls when visiting Madrid.
Our last meal to end our evening was at the world's oldest restaurant Botin (according to the Guinness Book of World's Record). Here we took a dive into their household prize-the suckiing pig. Must add their house made sangria to the dinner as we thoroughly enjoyed it. This was the perfect last meal.
Spain & Portugal, it was beautiful. Thank you and miss you already...will go back for a visit real soon:)